Plaintiffs raised voting rights issues Monday in calling for a 10-day extension of the period allotted for counting mail-in ballots, but the state's top elections official argued the relief sought to count primary ballots would interfere with people's rights to receive general election ballots.
Lawyers presented oral arguments Monday before the Supreme Judicial Court in a lawsuit brought by a Congressional candidate Becky Grossman, who is asking the high court to order Secretary of State William Galvin to direct local election officials to accept and count all mail-in ballots postmarked by Sept. 1. (Grossman, a Newton city councilor, is running in the crowded Democratic primary for the congressional seat previously held by U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy.)
"There's no need to tell Massachusetts voters who duly complied with the deadlines for requesting mail-in ballots to protect their health and that of their loved ones, as the secretary effectively does, let them eat cake," said Jeffrey Robbins, the lawyer representing Grossman's campaign. "The fact is that there are significant communities, ones that have been particularly ravaged by this disease, the elderly, communities of color, other disabled and all sorts of others who either cannot do this or who in any event should not need not be forced to do this in order to exercise their constitutional rights."
Assistant Attorney General Anne Sterman represented the secretary of state's office Monday and said the extension would create several challenges for the office including having enough time to deal with potential calls for recounts, resolving objections to candidate placement on the general election ballot, and abiding by a 45-day federal deadline to send ballots to residents and military personnel overseas.
"The reliefs that the petitioners seek would prevent the secretary from complying with the federal law requirement to send ballots to military and overseas voters by September 19. And would interfere with the ability to administer the general election," Sterman said during the hearing. "Adopting the remedy proposed by the petitioners would significantly interfere with opportunities for voter participation in the general election."
At least 1 million registered voters in Massachusetts requested mail-in ballots this year, elevating the importance of counting the mail vote at a time when controversy is swirling about the U.S. Postal Service operations and whether the agency will be able to move ballots in a timely manner.
Under a state law approved earlier this year to widen voting options during the pandemic, voters have until Wednesday, Aug. 26 to return vote-by-mail ballot applications, and local election officials must receive mail-in ballots by Sept. 1 to count them.
This article was originally published on August 24, 2020.